Friday, September 08, 2006

Speaking of Dish Towels…

I had to do the “big” grocery shopping thing. I’ve been gone for much of the past three months, and DH has been gone most of the past four months. DH is coming home and he will be looking to be fed… When DH isn’t here, I don’t and won’t cook for myself. Cooking is not something that I enjoy. It makes a mess – that has to be cleaned up [there is no more houseboy to do it!], and it takes up valuable time – when I could be at the computer, instead. I am quite content with just coffee for breakfast, perhaps something to snack on later in the day – so long as it involves zero preparation – and a bowl of cereal or soup for dinner. DH is satisfied with nothing less than two real meals a day. At this point, having been gone, we are out of everything. The cupboards really are bare! As well, it is time to restock the freezer with food for the “Kids.” [Yes, I will admit that I will cook for the “Kids” but not for myself. DH would say that I will cook for them before I cook for him, but that really isn’t true…]

Living on a compound that is a little city within a city does have advantages – one of which is that so many services are offered to us without leaving our gates – giving Westerner’s here, and “locals,” as well, much more freedom than we have outside the confines of our gilded cage. Thankfully, I can drive myself to our grocery store, something taken for granted the world over, which is, but for certain “restricted areas,” haram,* here in The Sandbox. However, I am still expected to “get dressed” just to go to the grocery store [see post of June 18, 2006,
"Attitude in Shorts"], so I procrastinate and put off going until it is absolutely necessary.

After putting jeans on [it is way too hot AND humid for jeans!], and going to the bank, I headed into the grocery store, list in hand, and proceeded to fill my “trolley” [we call it a “cart” in the States]. Going early – first thing in the morning – the store is usually fairly quiet – but NOT this morning. Today, the entire store was cursed with a gang of children wrecking havoc as they raced up and down the aisles in carts, knocking things off of shelves, literally running into the few of us that were shopping and ramming our trolleys with theirs. This is NOT the first time this has happened – that a gang of unruly children is terrorizing shoppers and store employees. At one point I was able to block their “fun” as they were racing – yes – three wide – their trolleys down the dairy aisle – I had my mine parked so that the entire “lane” was blocked – and nothing would have given me greater satisfaction than personally scolding the little monsters if they would have run into me. [I remember a time in 1995 when I spanked a neighbor’s child when she was climbing on my car and wouldn’t get off when told to do so no less than three times! Hee hee hee.]

At one point, as an acquaintance and I were exchanging greetings, and the kids charged past us, I asked, not quietly, either, one of the store clerk’s, “Who do these obnoxious children belong to?” The poor clerk just shrugged his shoulders. There is nothing the clerks or store managers can do about such menaces. [Many of the clerks and most of the managers are not “locals” and with good reason they are fearful of repercussions, knowing that confronting the parent or parents would likely threaten the livelihood they so depend on to support their families in other countries.]

For the time that I remained in the store, there was not one adult that appeared to be associated with caring for this particular group of children – and there were seven or eight of them , probably between the ages of eight and twelve, certainly old enough to know that their behavior was not appropriate. Not that having a parent or parents in their presence would have made any difference – as I stated, I’ve seen this behavior in the store more than once – and I’ve seen the parents – just carry on – totally oblivious to their children’s behavior! Disciplining one’s children, or requiring them to behave, more often than not, would seemingly be a foreign concept, here.

Even as I was checking out – I’d been in the store for probably forty or forty-five minutes – these kids continued “playing” as if, because it’s too hot to play outside [and it is], they’d decided that the store would be the perfect place to go instead. It is time for a new rule to be instituted – a sign that clearly states – in English AND in Arabic – that NO unaccompanied children under twelve are permitted. Barring that, the store managers and clerks should be given the green light to confront these unruly brats to be able to tell them to stop their shenanigans without worry or risk to their job security.

Not all of our store’s employees have been imported from other countries. The drive for Saudization, although unlikely to ever eliminate all of the outside, imported, work force, is making strides to provide employment for “locals” and in some professions residents must fill certain positions. Over the course of the past year, many of the former cashiers, men from other countries, have been terminated; a small handful remained to work the night and weekend shifts, and a few were allowed to continue as baggers or shelf stockers. Thus, when and where it is feasible [i.e., during the normal, customary, work days and hours, or 7:00A.M. to 4:00P.M., Saturday through Wednesday] cashier positions are now staffed by "locals," men and women. Admirably, this country, like any other, wants to provide for the welfare of its nationals to the best of its ability. And it is certainly understandable with an astronomical unemployment rate that the Kingdom will endeavor to restructure its work force [see August 27, 2006,
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"].

However, I find it a little more than slightly ironic that a person could or would be given a position as a cashier – involving money – when they are not able to calculate simple addition sums WITH the aide of an electronic, computerized cash register! It wasn’t enough that for the containers of pre-packaged [uniform price – each 5.50 SAR] chicken [there were twenty] the clerk chose to ring up each package individually even though I clearly said I had twenty of these, and did so again with the containers of pre-packaged [uniform price – each 6.25 SAR] beef [there were twenty]; ditto for the four rolls of paper towels [each 7.95 SAR]. I know that it is possible to put in the number of an item – the quantity – and then scan it for the price – so that each package does not have to be individually scanned – the former cashiers saved themselves time and effort in this manner. The possibility exists that perhaps the cashier just didn’t believe me when I said I had twenty packages of chicken and twenty packages of beef, and to insure that I wasn’t getting any freebies felt it necessary to scan each and every one of the items individually. Even then, a quick and simple count would have verified this. As for the paper towels, a mere glance would have confirmed there were, in fact, four rolls of an identical brand. Apart from the time involved for the cashier to pick up and scan each of the individual, identical items, a great deal more effort was required as well.

The “icing on the cake” was when the cashier finally pressed whatever key it is that gives the sum of money that is due for the purchases, that being 1092.77 SAR. Here the amount to the left of the decimal is a “Riyal,” what would be the “Dollar” in the States, and the amount to the right of the decimal is a “Halala” – in the States it is “cents.” Halalas are almost not worth having in small amounts – it is change – they just aren’t worth much [375 Halalas equals 100 cents, or $1.00]. Grocery bills are often rounded up or rounded down, eliminating the small amounts of currency altogether. In this particular instance, my grocery bill was rounded down to 1092.75 and I handed the cashier 1200.00 – two 500 SAR bills and one 200 SAR bill and she “froze.” I kid you not, she was unable to add the sum of the three bills that I handed her to be able to enter that number so that the cash register could immediately calculate the amount of change she needed to give back to me. After all, it’s not like I was counting on her to actually determine the amount of change I had coming back – that’s
WHAT the cash register is for, isn’t it?!?

It was almost comical watching her transfer each of the three bills from one hand to the next, eyes downward, concentrating on the paper money in her hands so intently. She was counting – I could see her lips moving – I assume she was counting – but after the two five hundred bills – or 1000 Riyals – she was NOT ABLE to determine what to do with the 200 Riyal bill. Apparently, this was just one too many zeros for her to handle, even with my telling her that it was 1200 and saying it out “one – two – zero – zero.” [She must have thought that once again I was trying to get over on her in some way – because, after all – when I said I had twenty packages of chicken, I really had twenty packages of chicken.] Probably it wasn’t much longer than a minute before she realized that she would have to call the manager to come and help her, but it certainly seemed like longer than that to me. The cashier acted quite surprised when the manager told her to press the keys “one – two – zero – zero.” I’m convinced that either this poor woman was either never taught to count past 999 or she was not taught how to “carry” sums in addition problems.

Convinced, but not surprised… Try giving a clerk at any convenience store in the States payment over and above what the total is. Say your total is $4.68. Hand the clerk a five dollar bill, a dime, a nickel and three pennies. He or she will look at you like you’ve got two heads – and tell you that your total is only $4.68. That’s right I gave you $5.18 for a purchase that totals $4.68. [Perhaps you’ve missed YOUR calling and you should have been a rocket scientist!] The reason I’m giving you the eighteen cents is so that you will give me two quarters back – fifty cents – instead of thirty-two cents – I don’t want that extra nickel and those two worthless pennies – I’m trying to get rid of all the worthless pennies I’m carrying in my wallet by giving you $5.18. At this point you have totally, thoroughly confused the clerk and you’ll probably end up with extra money. You have a choice – you could be so honest that you can’t even keep the extra quarter he or she might give you because you’ve confused them so. Or you can keep it. I say keep it. Unfortunately he or she will probably have to make up the difference at the end of the shift if their “cash drawer” doesn’t balance properly. But then, anyone this obtuse probably shouldn’t be working in a job that requires handling money to begin with.

*haram: Arabic word meaning "not allowed"

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